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A little panic is useful if it saves lives

Sport engenders complacency, but a measured panic is better in a crisis

Authorities the world over tell us not to panic. But sometimes a little panic can be useful if it saves lives. It may be necessary to frighten adults with the bogeyman, the way children are scared into eating their vegetables, if all of us are to survive.

The insouciance with which many continue to go about their business as if nothing is happening — partying, gathering in public places — seems to be a sign that asking people not to panic is a way of telling them to act irresponsibly.

The five-minute plate-banging and clapping on the Sunday was followed on Monday by crowds on the streets and in marketplaces. It was, as one writer pointed out, as if India had won the World Cup. Citizens concluded that the coronavirus had been driven away.

What has all this got to do with a sports column you might ask, and the answer is, “everything.” Sport does not exist outside of normal human practice; it is not something that happens independently of life. Any man’s death ought to diminish us for we are involved in mankind, as the poet pointed out.


The worst is yet to come, and we are ill-prepared. The responsibility falls on each of us to follow the rules. Stay home. Wash hands. Avoid people.

The Olympic Games have been postponed. And there is very little chance of the IPL being held any time soon. We might as well accept this and not waste time speculating or swallowing the highly optimistic statements from some quarters.

According to most estimates, we will be dealing in millions of people affected and killed before the thing tapers off. The best case scenario is a few weeks, the worst 18 months or more. Governments and individuals should prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.

This means we will need more emergency hospital beds, more equipment, more trained personnel and huge amounts of money to handle the medical crisis alone (the economic crisis running on a parallel track calls for financial stimulus too). Not every city can construct a 1000-bed hospital in 10 days, as Wuhan, in China, did. And this is where sports facilities come in.

Emergency centres

The Sports Authority of India has already put its 10 centres and five stadiums at the government’s disposal to be used as temporary emergency centres and quarantine areas.

The cricket stadiums where the IPL is scheduled to be played can be put to better use over the next few weeks and months by turning them into similar centres.

Brazil has already done the same with their football stadiums, and Wales with rugby clubs. The three most populous countries got off to a late start for varying reasons. China, where the virus originated, was more keen on covering up than on warning the rest of the world. The United States has the misfortune of having a President who looks at each issue from the point of view of his personal business growth. The country in between, India, has done well so far, but it has two handicaps: an administration that is fundamentally anti-science, and a too-easily satisfied population which is often told what to feel. There is a third too — the reluctance of its billionaires to create a large fund to fight the pandemic. India has 138 of them, at the last count.


The virus is no respecter of persons, and all three countries must deal with it with greater transparency and urgency. There are lessons they can learn from one another, and from Italy, Spain, Korea and the rest of the world.

It is not the end of the world if the IPL is postponed (the start of the cricket season in England has been pushed to at least May 28) or if the Olympic Games are not held on schedule. Such things tell us simultaneously about both the significance and the triviality of sport.

Right now it is the triviality that dominates. But we know this is only a phase, and soon the significance will take over. In the meantime, as the British Prime Minister said, many of us would have lost loved ones.

Many of them might have been saved with a bit of panic that saw them stay at home, wash hands and avoid travel and crowds.

In the spring of 1915, a year after the start of the World War (which ended only in 1919), the Surrey Committee issued the following statement: “The County championship will not take place; but in the event of the War coming to an early conclusion, it is hoped that some matches may be played…”

Surrey’s and England’s and the world’s best batsman, Jack Hobbs later wrote in his autobiography: “How curious it seems today to think that the War might not be prolonged throughout 1915…”

Sport engenders complacency, but measured panic is better in a crisis.

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 9:56:12 PM |

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